Watching and looking

I love words.

I love when words seep with literary devices that turn a simple sentence into a line of poetry.

I love when sentences don’t follow the proper structure. Not in a bad grammar way, but in a “need to break the formal rules to stand out” kind of way.

I love when words I know are strung together in a new way that cracks open a new meaning in them.

And I love when words you assume are interchangeable suddenly aren’t.

Annie F. Downs does all of these things so well. But in her latest book, Looking for Lovely, she does that last point in a powerful way.

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Watching for a miracle.

Looking for lovely.

When you’re watching for something, you’re expectant. You know it’s going to happen. You watch for your ride to pick you up. You watch for your shift to end. You watch for the show to start.

Looking, however, is active. You are seeking and the finding is unknown. You look for a sale. You look for a new job. You look for the rainbow after the storm.

In Looking for Lovely, Annie so vulnerably shares about a “broken crazy” season in her life. Where so much catches up with her and she doesn’t know what to do with it. But she shares that she was watching for a miracle, fully expecting God to do something amazing.

But while watching for this miracle, she looks for lovely. She seeks out beauty. Reasons to keep showing up and plugging away. A sunset, sparkly nail polish, deep conversations with dear friends – these are the lovely.

“As I thought back over my own life, the beautiful things, though few and far between, were the knots on the rope that helped me keep climbing.” – Annie F. Downs

What if we lived our lives watching for a miracle while looking for lovely?

I don’t think we can have miracles without lovely. It’s like the miracle is on the other end of a long roadtrip, and the lovely is the gas stations along the way. If we don’t make a point to look for the gas stations, we won’t make it to the final destination.

Watching for a miracle is hard to do. It’s easy to give up on the miracle and convince yourself that it won’t happen. The lovely is what fuels your drive to keep watching.

Maybe so many of us give up on miracles because we’re not looking for the things to keep us going, the gas stations. We pray for and expect miracles, then go about our lives with blinders on to the things we need to stay in that place of expectation. So we stop watching, praying and expecting. We stop thinking God can do big things.

But I’m learning God partners with me. I’m an active participant in miracles. He’s got the actual miracle part covered. My job is to hold on, to look for the fuel on the roadtrip, the knots on the rope, the lovely, so that I can keep watching for the miracle.

Looking for Lovely is released today! You can buy it on Amazon.

 

Disclaimer: I had the pleasure of being part of Annie’s launch team for Looking for Lovely and received an advanced copy. All opinions expressed in this post are my own.

 

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Jumping afraid

Since I was 8, my answer to “what’s your favourite sport?” has always been “gymnastics”.

I did recreational gymnastics from age 8 until I was 14. I was okay at it. I certainly had the flexibility, a decent amount of coordination, and probably could’ve developed the strength if I trained more. But there was one thing always got in the way.

I was afraid.

Gymnastics basically requires you to do things that your brain says “No. Danger. Stop.”

Front tuck on a 4-inch wide balance beam? No.

Run full-speed towards a vault and flip over it? Danger.

Propel yourself from an 8-foot high bar? Stop.

But gymnasts have something in them that shuts those (some would argue important) warnings off to do the scary things.

For a good year, I spent the entire time on our bar rotation in the front support position, working up the courage to do a straddle dismount. I was so afraid of falling forward when my feet hit the bar, even though gravity doesn’t work that way. The fear won out over basic physics.

I live today as a retired recreational gymnast (and coach) who has never done a straddle dismount.

That image raced back to me as I read a passage in Life’s Great Dare by Christa Hesselink, a new book about transformation and the abundant life. In it, she uses the example of her first experience bungee jumping, how she had to walk up to the edge of the platform and muster up the courage to jump. And then she writes these words that stopped my eyes from moving on to the next line.

“I knew that if I was going to jump, I was going to have to jump afraid.”

Read that again. Slowly.

LifesGreatDareUp until recently, I didn’t do anything if it meant I’d have to do it afraid. Fear was my signal to stop. As soon as it crept into whatever I was experiencing, I aborted the mission.

Like the straddle dismount.

Or going to a networking event where I don’t know anyone.

Or choosing butterflies.

Don’t get me wrong. Fear does serve a purpose. It stops us from doing things that might actually harm us. I’m glad that I’m afraid of snakes and sharks and walking through bad neighbourhoods at night.

Fear is a tricky thing though. Sometimes it stops us from hurting ourselves, but other times it stops us from growing into who we are called to be.

In her book, Christa explains that life’s great dare is to let God transform us. It’s about giving up comfort in order for something new and better to emerge.

Because the thing about personal transformation is that it feels uncomfortable, it feels risky. It feels like jumping afraid.

But what if we don’t? What if we stay safe and stop God from transforming us? What are we missing out on.

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I want to be more afraid of missing out, than of being transformed. Or jumping afraid. Or choosing butterflies.

Intrigued? Life’s Great Dare is Christa’s story of transformation in the midst of the most devastating and traumatic circumstances. She writes with such truth and vulnerability, it’s hard not to be moved to explore what your life would look like if you say “yes” to Life’s Great Dare.

Life’s Great Dare is available on Amazon as of March 31. You can also learn more at www.lifesgreatdare.com.

Disclaimer: I am proudly part of the Life’s Great Dare launch team. All opinions expressed in this post are my own.

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Stop waiting for the perfect time

I spend a lot of time waiting. I imagine up these awesome experiences, and then wait for the perfect time to execute them.

Wait until my mom’s 60th birthday to throw her a surprise party.

Wait until Christmas to give the perfect gift that I thought up in July.

Wait until my honeymoon to take an epic trip.

But sometimes the perfect time never happens. In fact, the perfect time is never guaranteed. I’d even say the perfect time is the exception – and you can’t expect the exception.

So when a dear friend moves to Australia and you find yourself with extra vacation time and extra money in savings, that becomes the perfect time to take an epic trip – not an unguaranteed honeymoon.

I could keep waiting for something that might never happen, or I could reconfigure my epic trip fantasy and make it happen now.

So that’s what I did. I planned the trip – a big choosing butterflies moment for me…the eternal homebody.

And because I planned the trip, I got to have experiences that now, on the other side, I can’t imagine being left unexperienced.

I had the pinnacle airport arrival moment where I dropped my bags and hugged my friend for a really long time as we giggled and squealed.

Taking the ferry as we head home from the airport

Taking the ferry as we head home from the airport

I beat jet lag like a boss. Seriously…I travelled for nearly 24 hours with a 16-hour time change and jet lag did not get in my way going there or coming home. I win.

I saw things I had only dreamt up in my head, like the Sydney Opera House. I fell in love with this building during the 2000 Olympics and it was even more spectacular in person. I couldn’t look away…which you can tell from the 25+ pictures I took of the building from every angle.

From the ferry

From the ferry

From the Opera Bar

From the Opera Bar

From the Sydney Harbour Bridge

From the Sydney Harbour Bridge

 

From the Royal Botanical Gardens

From the Royal Botanical Gardens

 

From inside the Opera House

From inside the Opera House

 

I sat in a park and read with this view in the background.

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I watched a movie with this view in the background.

St. George Open Air Theatre

St. George Open Air Theatre

 

I sat on a beach and played in the giant waves of the Tasman Sea.

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I got to be a solo tourist, since Nina had to work a few days I was there…and I enjoyed it. I picked my own itinerary for the day and could change it if I felt like it.

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I navigated complicated public transit on my own, sometimes involving ferries, trains and buses all in one trip. (Note: “on my own” = “with the help of Google Maps”)

The Circular Quay train station

The Circular Quay train station

 

I walked from Bondi to Coogee Beach and witnessed beach views that I wouldn’t believe I actually saw in person if not for the dozens of photos I took.

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I snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef, explored the Daintree Rainforest, and walked along Cape Tribulation where there were multiple signs warning of crocodiles and deadly jellyfish.

Snorkelling selfie

Snorkelling selfie

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If I had waited for the perfect time, none of these things would’ve happened. They would’ve been experiences left unexperienced. And that thought breaks heart.

What experiences might not happen if you keep waiting for the perfect time?

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You’ve come so far

Dear 19 year-old Lindsay,

You’re about to take a step that’s really hard. Something you anxiously dreaded for most of your teen years, because you weren’t sure how it would ever happen.

You’re about to move into residence to start university.

You’ve come so far. Remember when you couldn’t even go on a sleepover for four solid years? Remember how you missed out on weeks at the cottage with your friends because you didn’t want to be away from home? And now you’re moving out. I’m so proud of you!

It’s only 25 minutes from home, but this is a big deal. You’ve worked really hard to get here. It’s not all going to be easy. There’s going to be teary nights and you’ll want to go back home sometimes, but you’re going to surprise yourself. You’ll only make a desperate call home once…and that’s because you hurt your back in the shower (and sorry, it’s not even a fun story). You’re going to have really awesome roommates who totally get this weird quirk you have. Don’t be afraid to be honest with them, they’re going to surprise you.

And this is just the first step. Guess what? When you’re 26, you’re going to buy your own condo, and live all on your own. You’ll live there for longer than you planned, but it’s okay. You’re actually going to love living on your own, I promise. Let that sink in. You’re braver than you think.

And you know what else? You’re going to travel to the other side of the world, to Australia, all on your own. A few years before, you meet a wonderful friend who moves there, and you use that as an excuse to save up a whole lot of money and go on an adventure.

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I’ll warn you, some of that anxiety is going to creep up again as you plan the trip. You’re going to go through every worst-case scenario and try to convince yourself not to go. But now you know how to handle it. You can put it in perspective. You understand that nerves aren’t a reason to pack it up and crawl back into your comfort zone. You’ll live in this weird tension where you actually kind of like those nerves, they tell you that you’re growing and that you’re doing something brave.

Please trust me when I say those nerves are a good thing, and taking this step to move away is going to change everything in an amazing way. Because you do this, you’re going to realize how brave you really are…one step at a time.

I’m proud of you brave girl.

Love,
Almost 32 year-old Lindsay

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Adventures in plumbing

Toilet-llqq-001Last night I did plumbing. Or I plumbed? I’m not even sure the right verb tense to use…which clearly tells you a lot about my experience in the plumbing world.

Let’s try this again.

Last night I fixed my toilet. By myself. Well…with the help of Google, and a friend who was able to diagnose the problem from my email that used descriptions like “dripping noise” and “running noise” and “it’s not going away on its own”.

Normally the thought of doing any kind of “handyman job” terrifies me. But just last week, I connected new speakers to my TV like a rockstar. So clearly “fixing a running toilet” was next on the Independent Woman Checklist.

I walked into the hardware store emboldened by my newfound “I can fix house problems” attitude. I found the plumbing section and the part I needed. My confidence waivered a bit when I saw how many varieties of toilet flappers existed. I didn’t even know “toilet flapper” was a thing until two days ago, so it blew my mind to know they come in so many different shapes, sizes and colours. But I asked the very nice young sales associate (who was probably half my age and likely had only done plumbing (had only plumbed??) with the supervision of his parents), and he confirmed I picked the right one.

Bonus points for me.

I got home and stood over my toilet (if you’ve skimmed to this section, I think it just got weird). Now you should know I live in a condo that only has one toilet. If this went wrong, I had a good 14 hours before I’d have access to a functioning toilet again.

The stakes were high.

But I got to work. My hands were dirty and I only had to send one panicked text to a friend who lives close asking if she had wire cutters (don’t ask), but then McGivered a solution so I wouldn’t need them.

And now my toilet only flushes when I want it to. And it doesn’t make a noise every three minutes like it had for the last six months.

Bliss.

But here’s the thing. I could’ve called someone to fix it. I’m lucky enough to have a number of people that would come if I had asked. I also suppose I could’ve paid someone to come fix it. But I did my research and was pretty sure I could handle this, so I tried. And it worked.

I often automatically assume something will be too complicated for me, so I don’t even try. The thought of doing it myself doesn’t even cross my mind. I immediately go to “who can I ask to help me?” instead of “could I maybe do this myself?”

I need to give myself (with the support of Google) more credit. We can probably do more than I think we can.

Maybe next I can tackle how to replace the microwave lightbulb. Or world peace.

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2015 in five words

Photo credit: Very Ivanova (Unsplash)

I’ve always been the first to say “New Years Eve is pointless”. I don’t like the pressure to do something epic to ring in the New Year, and I’m not a fan of cliché New Years Resolutions.

But really, I do like the concept of New Years. I like that we celebrate a time marker. I like reflecting on the year – I’ve read so many “top memes/songs/news stories/photos of 2015” in the last few days. I like anticipating what the next year will bring – where will I be this time next year? There’s so much hope and anticipation in that question.

2015 has been a significant year for me. It’s been hard. More than ever, I’ve had the “I can’t wait for this year to be over” conversation. And now here we are. Day 365 of 2015. It’s only a few hours from being over.

When I look back on 2015, here are words I will use to describe it.

Support
I learned how to support people. I learned that support is different than fixing. I can’t fix people’s sadness. I can’t bring back a child, change a cancer diagnosis or rebuild a broken marriage. There’s nothing I can say or do that will accomplish those things, nor is it my job. That revelation was probably the singular most important thing I learned this year. And realizing it freed me up to actually be supportive. I didn’t have to show up with all the answers. I just had to show up.

Grieve
I’m learning that you have to learn how to grieve. That it is an incredibly individualized experience, and there isn’t a rule book.

Action
Sometimes things fall into your lap when you least expect it – a job, an adventure, the man of your dreams. But opportunities appearing out of nowhere are the exception, not the rule. And I can’t expect the exception. Most of the time, I have to research, hustle and step out of my comfort zone for these opportunities. It’s not romantic, it’s not great dinner party conversation fodder, but it’s real life. And I need to believe it’s worth it on the other side.

Adventure
One of my favourite memories of 2015 will be my east-coast adventure. I actually miss the east coast, even four months later. When I returned to work, people often said “oh you must be happy to be back in a routine.” No. Absolutely not. Take me back to beautiful scenery, fun adventures, uncontrollable laughing, serious talks, deeper friendships, and life-highlight experiences. It ignited a desire for more adventure in my life.

Distraction
I’ve found so many ways to distract myself this year. I’ve trained myself to want more and more mental stimulation at any given time. Now I have to work at untraining that. At slowing down and sitting in the quietness of my thoughts. At being bored and listening.

Support
Grieve
Action
Adventure
Distraction

What words describe your 2015?

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The difficult pages

“Don’t pull out the difficult pages of your story, let them be part of the story” – Mike Foster

I heard Mike say this at the Storyline Conference in 2014. I even quoted it in a blog post I wrote about the conference.

It’s the idea that suffering is only suffering without context, and that the hard parts aren’t parts to be avoided. In fact, they are reality and an important part of the story.

This was a whole new way of looking at suffering for me. I had always tried my hardest to avoid suffering, to pick the path with the fewest obstacles. But it made sense – a story without challenges or difficulties is a boring story.

So I thought I was ready.

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I had a picture in my mind of what it’d look like the next time I turned to a difficult page in my story – a sad part of the story. I would probably cry a lot more (I’ve never been a big crier) and I wouldn’t distract myself when sad things happened. I’d let myself sit in the sadness and eventually, doing so would make me a stronger person.

Well it turns out, that’s not really a response you can turn on once you “decide” that’s how you’d like to handle the hard stuff.

2015 was full of hard stuff. There were so many heartaches in the lives of so many people that I love.

2015 has been made up of flashes of sad moments.

Sitting in silence at my aunt’s house with our family, only hours after she died. Surrounded by reminders that she was just here – her water glass, her purse in the entryway, even wondering if the egg carton in the garbage was the last thing she put in there.

Holding a sobbing mother while we stood next to the open casket of her 13 year-old daughter. Telling her how much I adored her daughter, how special her daughter was, while she gripped me tighter and shook harder.

Crouching in a hospital elevator bay while a dear friend told us about her cancer diagnosis. “When I get over the shock of this,” she said through tears, “I’m going to be so angry.”

Standing with one of my best friends while a room full of people buzzed in the background. Her hand lovingly stroked the tiniest casket I’d ever seen. She’d now have to figure out how to do life without her newborn baby girl.

Gathering with hundreds of people on a cold fall night at a vigil to honour the three children and father of my coworker, who were killed by a drunk driver.

Through all of these and more, I didn’t sit in the sadness like I envisioned I would. I barely cried and I have definitely distracted myself. I’ve gone into action-mode in each scenario, looking for practical things to do. I’ve also spent a lot of time watching TV and scrolling through Facebook to avoid thinking or feeling too hard. And even when I try to embrace the sad stuff, I just can’t. It’s like there’s a “do not enter” sign on my heart that the sad stuff is taking seriously.

I guess I’m learning this is a process. That just because you understand the importance of facing and grieving the sad stuff, doesn’t mean you know how to do it. Theory and practice are different things. I’m working on it.

But I’m also wondering if maybe keeping the difficult pages in my story looks different than I envisioned back in 2014.

I thought it would look like a puddly mess of tears, but maybe it simply looks like showing up.

Even when it’s awkward, even when I want to find any excuse not to be there, even when the person I’m sitting with is scared or in the midst of the saddest part of their life. Maybe, at this point in my life, the difficult pages look like admitting I have no idea how to handle this, but I’m here in the messiness and I’ll stay here as long as needed.

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Wonderful, terrifying, powerful

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the Ontario Hospital Association’s Social Media Conference. It was one of those days where I learned a lot and met some really smart, really fascinating people.

That’s pretty much my favourite kind of day.

One of the speakers was Nora Young, who spoke about data. Her presentation had so many takeaways (I’m beginning to realize I’m a data nerd, data can tell awesome stories), but this slide has stayed with me.

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Photo courtesy of Nora Young

This is wonderful.

This is terrifying.

This is powerful.

So simple. Just five different words. But think about it. In the Venn diagram of life, pretty amazing things happen where wonderful, terrifying and powerful overlap.

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Love looks like leis and balloons

Six months ago, one of the most beautiful people I know shared one of the scariest stories I’d ever heard. The punchline was the hardest part to believe.

It might be cancer.

A week later, it was confirmed. Cancer.

Of all people, her. It didn’t make sense. A single mom who had endured so much heartbreak already. Why this? Why her?

But with her strength, grace, tears, vulnerability and an uncanny ability to laugh during the hard parts, we got to this week. The last week of chemo.

And it became apparent that this week was going to need a little more celebrating than we initially thought. So a plan went into motion.

Miraculously, three of her people were able to free up a weekday afternoon. We got in touch with the friend who was on driving duty. We talked to her sister to work out what this could look like.

With leis, tiaras, ridiculous glasses, flowers and balloons, we waited by the chemo bell. Actually, we hid behind a fish tank until she got to the chemo bell – we were a sight.

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And the look on her face when she realized these ridiculous people were her people. That’s a look I will never forget.

She rang the chemo bell. The bell that indicates this part is over. This horrible chapter is closed. We cried and clapped and hugged and laughed and cried some more.

It was one of the most beautiful and meaningful moments of my life. And it almost didn’t exist.

I thought of so many reasons not to do this.

She just wants it over, she doesn’t want to make a big deal of it.

There are probably other people that could do it better.

We probably couldn’t pull it off anyway.

But then I remembered that choosing butterflies means choosing action. It means choosing to do the hard and potentially awkward thing. Choosing to willingly step into someone else’s pain.

So I put away all the reasons not to do it, and I did it – we did it. We chose action so she knew she was loved.

Because sometimes love looks like showing up in a hospital dressed in dollar store paraphernalia.

“That’s because love is never stationary. In the end, love doesn’t just keep thinking about it or keep planning for it. Simply put: love does.” – Bob Goff, Love Does

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Real rest

Rest. I always thought I was good at it.

Creative Commons. Photo credit: Antranias

Creative Commons. Photo credit: Antranias

I’m in a season of life where I have a lot of unaccounted for time. I have a job that is contained to 40 hours a week most of the time, and I don’t have a spouse or kids. This gives me a lot of control over how my time is spent.

Because this is not the norm, there are a lot of articles and posts about the importance of rest. About taking time away from the busy-ness to recharge.

“Not a problem,” I say to myself. “I’m all over it.”

Then I put on my PJs, plop down on the couch, turn on another season of Gilmore Girls and pat myself on the back for being so good at resting.

But that’s not resting. That’s being lazy.

True rest is not just physical. It has to be mental and spiritual too.

Here’s the thing. While I’m watching Rory and Lorelei banter about early 2000’s pop culture, I’m also scrolling through Facebook, Twitter and maybe playing solitaire on my phone. Sometimes I’m being productive and making dinner or cleaning, but regardless, I can’t just watch TV anymore. I get bored and need to be doing something else at the same time.

This is something I taught to myself. Slowly, just watching TV wasn’t stimulating enough – I needed to do another activity at the same time.

So while my body may be resting, my brain is looking for more things to process. Watch TV, check Facebook, look up a recipe, move laundry along.

This isn’t rest. This is the opposite. This is lazy busyness. My body may be resting, but my brain is working on overdrive. Because the more I can focus on externally, the less I’m forced to focus on what’s going on inside my head and my heart.

I’m pretty sure watching Gilmore Girls while playing solitaire isn’t what Jesus was talking about when he told us to rest:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
– Matthew 11:28-30

Right now my rest isn’t true rest. It’s not quiet. It’s busy, it’s distracting, it’s adding noise to my life. As this passage describes, rest should do the opposite. It should quiet us, ground us, and bring us back to God.

I’m in a significant season of life where I probably need quiet, grounded-ness and closeness to God more than I ever have before. I’ve experienced a series of intense heartbreaks and have been surprised by my reaction to them. I’m also considering “what’s next?” questions in an exciting and terrifying way.

So if I’m honest, real rest seems scary. Slowing my brain down to rest in God might mean some really painful feelings might rise to the surface. It might mean I feel led on a path that requires more courage than I think I can bear.

God tells us to rest. Really rest. No TV, no social media, no dinner or laundry or distraction. Because distraction is noisy. It gets in the way of a real conversation. And here I am banging on pots and pans, while wondering why I can’t hear what God is saying to me.

So I’m trying. I’m trying to find regular “distraction-free” days with no TV or social media. I’m trying to read more, journal more and be comfortable with the quiet. It’s not easy, and it takes discipline and practice. It takes being a little bit bored and being okay with it. It takes bringing my train of thought back on track when it runs off course. Sometimes over and over again.

I’m working on it.

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